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Review: Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra Phono Preamplifier- Aha Moments in Audio Exploration

Review: Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra Phono Preamplifier- Aha Moments in Audio Exploration- Unveiling audiophile excellence, the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra marries discreet design with unparalleled sonic prowess, redefining compact preamplifiers.
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Introduction to the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra: Unveiling Audiophile Excellence

In the realm of audiophiles, the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra is a testament to the marriage of unassuming design and unparalleled performance. Hailing from the Austrian manufacturer’s S2 series, this compact phono preamplifier challenges preconceived notions about HiFi components that fit on a beer mat. Pro-Ject’s commitment to European craftsmanship, evident in the meticulous development and manufacturing processes, sets the S2 Ultra apart from randomly sourced Asian counterparts. Despite its modest appearance, this review delves into the intricate details and acoustic prowess that justify the “Ultra” designation and the additional 70 euros it commands.

As we embark on a sonic journey with the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra, the unassuming aluminum profile conceals a treasure trove of audiophile excellence. With a keen focus on functionality over unnecessary embellishments, the S2 Ultra effortlessly amplifies both MM and MC systems, revealing its prowess in handling diverse musical genres. This review aims to unravel the intricacies of the listening experience, exploring the dynamic range, clarity, and discreet design elements that position the Phono Box S2 Ultra as a standard-bearer in the classic phono box format.

About Pro-Ject: Crafting Sonic Brilliance with European Precision: Pro-Ject, an Austrian audio equipment manufacturer, has carved its niche in high-fidelity audio with a commitment to precision and craftsmanship. Founded by Heinz Lichtenegger, the company has distinguished itself by developing and manufacturing audio components in Europe, a departure from the common trend of outsourcing to Asia. Pro-Ject’s S2 series, including the Phono Box S2 Ultra, exemplifies their dedication to creating compact yet powerful HiFi devices. With a focus on simplicity and functionality, Pro-Ject’s products often surprise users with the mature technology hidden beneath their unassuming exteriors. As audiophiles worldwide explore the depths of sound with Pro-Ject equipment, the company continues to set standards for excellence in audio reproduction.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Input impedance10 Ohm/ 100 Ohm/1 kOhm /47 kOhm
Input capacitance100 pF/ 220 pF
Gain switch40dB/43dB/60dB/63dB
Subsonic switch-18 dB @ 20 Hz
Signal-to-noise ratio89 dB V (MM)
THD0.00052% 
RIAA accuracy< 0.4 dB / 20 Hz – 20k Hz
In/Out sockets1 pair RCA connectors 
Power consumption18 V / 80 mA
Outboard power supply18 Volt DC/ 500 mA
Dimensions ( W x H x D ) 103 x 37 x 119 mm 
Coloursilver or black 
Weight570 g without power supply

Sleek Design, Serious Technology: Merging Form and Functionality

The Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra masterfully marries an unassuming, sleek design with a wealth of technological severe prowess, creating a harmonious union of form and functionality. Its exterior, fashioned from a robust aluminum profile as part of the S2 standard housing, showcases a minimalist aesthetic that understates the advanced technology concealed within. This intentional simplicity saves on manufacturing costs and serves as a testament to Pro-Ject’s commitment to focusing on the essentials of audio excellence.

Beneath the unpretentious surface lies a phono preamplifier that transcends expectations. The absence of pomp and frills becomes a deliberate choice, directing attention to the intricacies of the internal circuitry. The Phono Box S2 Ultra eschews the commonplace use of operational amplifier integrated circuits (OP amps) and instead opts for a design where each amplification stage is meticulously constructed from individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors. This approach, while increasing manufacturing complexity and costs, promises a reduction in distortion and an infusion of liveliness and directness that audiophiles ardently seek.

The compact yet stable aluminum mini housing is not merely an aesthetic choice but a functional one, offering durability and effective heat dissipation. The front panel, adorned only with an on/off touch button and a subtle blue LED light dot, maintains the sleek exterior while providing user-friendly operation. The rear panel reveals a pair of input and output sockets and a well-designed ground terminal for easy grip. Including a subsonic filter, activated by a central push button, adds a practical touch to effectively suppress membrane flutter on vinyl records.

In essence, the sleek design of the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra is a deliberate canvas, allowing the severe technology within to take center stage. The synergy between its unassuming exterior and the advanced, meticulously crafted internal components elevates the S2 Ultra beyond mere aesthetics, establishing it as a pinnacle of sonic engineering within the classic phono box format.

Listening Experience:

Embarking with the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra is a captivating odyssey through aural landscapes characterized by unexpected revelations and distinct “aha” moments that redefine the listening experience. Initially presenting itself as unassumingly normal, the S2 Ultra gradually unfurls its sonic prowess as the music gains momentum, revealing a depth and clarity that sets it apart from its compact phono stage counterparts.

The “aha” moments become most pronounced when the Ultra amplifies the intricate nuances of music, effortlessly outshining its competitors. Tracks like “Go Dig My Grave” by Lankum serve as a litmus test, where the Ultra transcends the ordinary, effortlessly capturing the quiet acapella beginnings and then escalating into a sonic rollercoaster of intensity. The transformative power of the Ultra becomes evident as it navigates the complexities of the acoustic landscape, resonating with the harsh, bitter power imbued in the vocals of artists like Radie Peat.

What distinguishes the S2 Ultra is its ability to not only amplify the music but to do so with a sense of openness, uncolored precision, and structural clarity. Compared to formidable competitors like the Musical Fidelity V90-LPS or the Lehmann audio Black Cube Statement, the Ultra delivers a more pronounced, dynamic, and authoritative tone. The musical journey extends beyond genres, with the Ultra effortlessly traversing the intricate soundscape of Labrinth’s “Euphoria Season 2 Official Score,” displaying superior structure and a direct, commanding tone compared to its counterparts.

The “aha” moments become a symphony of realization as the Phono Box S2 Ultra unveils layers of detail and musicality that might have been previously overlooked. It becomes more than a device reproducing sound; it becomes a conduit for rediscovering the essence of music. This listening experience, punctuated by these distinctive moments of revelation, positions the S2 Ultra as a transformative force, transcending the ordinary and leaving an indelible mark on the audiophile’s sonic journey.

Dynamic Range and Clarity: Unveiling Sonic Dimensions

Within the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra, the marriage of dynamic range and clarity unfolds as an exquisite sonic tapestry, setting a new standard for audio reproduction in phono preamplifiers. As the needle delicately traces the grooves of vinyl records, the S2 Ultra reveals its mastery in handling the dynamic intricacies of music, breathing life into each note with a nuanced and expressive finesse.

The dynamic range, a crucial aspect of audio fidelity, is where the S2 Ultra showcases its prowess. Whether navigating the delicate crescendos of classical compositions or riding the energetic waves of rock anthems, this phono preamp elevates the listening experience by effortlessly capturing the subtlest whispers and the thunderous crescendos. The transitions between soft and loud passages become a seamless journey, creating an immersive sonic landscape that resonates authentically.

Clarity, another hallmark of the S2 Ultra’s sonic prowess, unveils layers of detail with unparalleled precision. Every instrument and vocal nuance is etched with pristine clarity, allowing the listener to discern individual elements within the musical arrangement. This exceptional clarity is not a technical achievement but a gateway to a more profound connection with the music, where even the subtlest articulations and harmonics are unveiled.

Compared to its counterparts, such as the Musical Fidelity V90-LPS or the Lehmannaudio Black Cube Statement, the S2 Ultra stands out with clarity beyond the superficial. It doesn’t just reproduce sound; it unveils the soul of the music, capturing the artist’s intent and delivering it with a level of transparency that transcends expectations. The sonic signature of the S2 Ultra is characterized by a balance that allows each element to shine, creating a symphony of sound where every instrument finds its rightful place in the mix.

As the S2 Ultra explores the sonic dimensions of both MM and MC systems, it consistently delivers a listening experience beyond the ordinary. Dynamic range and clarity become more than technical attributes; they become the conduits through which the essence of music is brought to life, cementing the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra as a paragon of sonic excellence in phono preamplifiers.

Connections and Connectivity: Crafting an Audiophile Hub

The Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra excels in its sonic prowess. It stands out as a paragon of thoughtful connections and seamless connectivity, creating an audiophile hub that caters to the diverse needs of music enthusiasts. The rear panel of the S2 Ultra unfolds as a well-designed interface, offering a glimpse into the meticulous consideration given to the connectivity options.

At the heart of its connectivity arsenal are a pair of input and output sockets, elegantly positioned to accommodate various configurations effortlessly. These connections ensure a smooth integration with turntables, amplifiers, and other audio components, forming a cohesive setup that enhances the listening experience. The stability and durability of these connections reflect the commitment to quality, assuring users of a reliable and uninterrupted audio journey.

Including an easy-grip ground terminal further emphasizes Pro-Ject’s attention to detail. This feature ensures a secure grounding connection and contributes to minimizing unwanted noise, maintaining the purity of the audio signal. It’s a small yet crucial aspect demonstrating the brand’s commitment to crafting a phono preamplifier beyond basic functionality.

The user-friendly interface extends to the front panel, where a touch-sensitive on/off button and a subtle blue LED light dot provides an elegant yet intuitive control center. The simplicity of these controls adds to the overall sleek design while maintaining ease of operation. Integrating a subsonic filter, activated by a push button, showcases a commitment to enhancing the listening experience by addressing potential issues like membrane flutter on vinyl records.

However, the S2 Ultra truly distinguishes itself in its adaptability and customization options. The back panel hosts a series of mini switches that allow users to fine-tune the preamp for different systems. Adjustments for gain settings, MM capacitance, and MC resistance can be made effortlessly, providing customization rarely seen in compact phono preamplifiers. While the process may require a bit of thought, the flexibility to cater to different cartridges and systems adds a layer of versatility that enhances the overall connectivity experience.

The Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra is not merely a device for amplifying music; it is a meticulously crafted audiophile hub that fosters a seamless and personalized connection between vinyl records and the listener. Its thoughtful design and connectivity options exemplify Pro-Ject’s dedication to creating an immersive and user-friendly audio experience. It is a standout choice for those who appreciate sonic excellence and thoughtful engineering in their audio setups.

Discreet Design: Unveiling Sonic Alchemy Under the Hood

Beneath the unassuming exterior of the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra lies a marvel of discreet design, where form meets audiophile-grade function to create a sonic alchemy that transcends expectations. Unlike phono preamplifiers that rely on conventional operational amplifier integrated circuits (OP amps), the S2 Ultra ventures into a realm of sophistication by constructing each amplification stage from individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors. This departure from the norm speaks volumes about Pro-Ject’s commitment to delivering sound and a captivating listening experience.

The circuitry within the S2 Ultra is a testament to precision and complexity. Opting for a fully discreet design, Pro-Ject populates the small circuit board with scores of individual components meticulously arranged to minimize interference and distortion. Though more labor-intensive and requiring heightened development time, this approach promises an unparalleled sonic purity and a liveliness that discerning audiophiles crave.

This intricate circuitry is hidden within a thick-walled, stable aluminum mini housing that exudes elegance and durability. The discreet design philosophy extends to the visual aesthetics, maintaining simplicity with a precisely crafted front panel hosting only an on/off touch button and a subtle blue LED light dot. This intentional minimalism complements the sleek design and directs focus to the sonic excellence brewing.

What sets the S2 Ultra apart is not just the absence of typical OP amp ICs but the meticulous thought invested in the layout and composition of its internal components. The result is a phono preamplifier that goes beyond amplification; it becomes a conduit for sonic authenticity, preserving the integrity of the original recording. Every nuance, from a vinyl groove’s delicate whisper to a bass note’s booming resonance, is treated with reverence and reproduced with unparalleled fidelity.

While the discreet design philosophy aligns with audiophile expectations, it goes beyond mere aesthetic choices. It represents a commitment to creating a sonic masterpiece that transcends the limitations of traditional phono preamps. The Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra, with its discreet design under the hood, stands as a beacon of sonic excellence, where every component plays a role in delivering a listening experience that is not just heard but felt, inviting enthusiasts to rediscover the true essence of their favorite vinyl records.

Customization and Flexibility: Tailoring Sonic Precision to Your Preferences

In the realm of audio enthusiasts, the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra is a testament to the marriage of customization and flexibility, elevating the listening experience to an art form. What sets this phono preamplifier apart is its ability to amplify music and its unparalleled adaptability to different turntables, cartridges, and individual preferences—a testament to Pro-Ject’s commitment to providing audiophiles with a tailored sonic journey.

At the heart of this customization prowess lies the ingeniously designed back panel, hosting an array of 16 mini switches that act as the sonic architects, allowing users to fine-tune the Phono Box to their specific setup. These switches enable adjustments to gain settings, MM capacitance, and MC resistance, providing a level of control rarely seen in compact phono preamplifiers. While navigating this array requires a bit of thought, its flexibility becomes a gateway to a personalized sonic haven.

For instance, users can effortlessly adapt the S2 Ultra to different cartridges, independently adjusting resistance levels and capacitance values and gaining settings. Whether accommodating the nuances of a low-output MC system or fine-tuning for a high-output MC, the S2 Ultra emerges as a versatile companion for vinyl enthusiasts seeking sonic perfection. This flexibility extends to creating optimal conditions for unique cartridges, such as the Denon DL-110, showcasing Pro-Ject’s dedication to meeting the diverse needs of the audiophile community.

The customization process is not just about technical adjustments; it’s about curating a sonic signature that aligns with individual preferences. The ability to tailor the amplification factor, capacitance, and resistance through the mini switches transforms the listening experience into a personalized journey. Users can experiment, finding the sweet spot that enhances the performance of their specific turntable, cartridge, and musical taste.

While some may see the process as intricate, the rewards are profound. The adaptability of the S2 Ultra allows users to unlock the full potential of their vinyl setups, ensuring that each note is reproduced with precision and authenticity. This level of customization transcends the conventional boundaries of phono preamps, making the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra a standout choice for those who crave music and an intimately crafted sonic experience tailored to their unique preferences.

Usability and Functionality: Seamlessly Navigating the Audiophile Realm

The Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra not only captivates with its sonic excellence but also distinguishes itself through a thoughtfully designed interface that enhances usability and functionality, transforming the pursuit of audio perfection into a user-friendly expedition. From the moment users engage with the S2 Ultra, its intuitive design and versatile functionality become apparent, creating an audiophile’s haven where the focus remains on the pure enjoyment of music.

The front panel, adorned with a touch-sensitive on/off button and a subtle blue LED light dot, exudes simplicity while offering convenient control at the user’s fingertips. The absence of unnecessary complexities in the visual interface aligns with Pro-Ject’s commitment to keeping the essentials in focus. This minimalist approach ensures that the user experience remains streamlined, allowing enthusiasts to seamlessly integrate the S2 Ultra into their audio setups.

The touch-sensitive controls contribute not only to the sleek aesthetics but also to the overall ease of operation. Users can power on or off the S2 Ultra with a gentle touch, adding a tactile element to the interaction that enhances the overall satisfaction of using the device. The functionality extends beyond aesthetics, including a subsonic filter activation button, addressing potential issues like membrane flutter on vinyl records, showcasing the device’s commitment to maintaining sonic purity.

Turning the attention to the back panel, the connectivity options and layout further underscore the user-centric design philosophy. Including input and output sockets and an easy-grip ground terminal ensures that connecting turntables and amplifiers is a straightforward process. The robust and durable connections provide both reliability and ease of use, contributing to the overall user-friendly nature of the S2 Ultra.

Delving deeper into functionality, the back panel hosts a series of mini switches that empower users to customize the S2 Ultra to their specific needs. While adjusting gain settings, MM capacitance and MC resistance might require a bit of thought, including clear labeling on the device’s underside ensures that users can navigate these customization options confidently.

This combination of user-friendly controls, intuitive interface design, and thoughtful functionality positions the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra as more than a mere audio component—it becomes a companion on the audiophile’s journey. The seamless usability and versatile functionality not only amplify music but amplify the overall enjoyment of the vinyl listening experience, making the S2 Ultra a standout choice for those who value both sonic excellence and user-friendly design in their audio equipment.

Conclusion: Setting Standards in its Class

In the realm of compact phono preamplifiers, the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra emerges not only as a sonic marvel but as a paradigm-shifter in audiophile craftsmanship. Its unassuming design, meticulous engineering, and unparalleled flexibility redefine expectations, setting a new standard for what a compact phono stage can achieve. The discreet architecture, featuring individual transistors and resistors, breathes life into music, unveiling nuances and dynamics that propel the listening experience into an immersive sonic journey.

As we explore the usability and functionality, it becomes evident that the S2 Ultra is not just a device but a gateway to a personalized audio realm. The intuitive controls, thoughtful connectivity options, and the ability to fine-tune settings cater to seasoned enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Its adaptability to various turntables and cartridges and its user-friendly interface make it a standout choice for those seeking an amplifier and a partner in exploring music. In conclusion, the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra stands as a beacon of sonic excellence, reshaping the landscape of compact phono preamplifiers and inviting audiophiles to rediscover the timeless magic of vinyl with a device that seamlessly blends artistry, functionality, and unparalleled sonic fidelity.

Reasons to Buy the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra:

  1. Sonic Excellence: The S2 Ultra’s discreet design and meticulous construction eschewing standard OP amps for individual components, resulting in a sonic purity that sets it apart. It effortlessly amplifies both MM and MC systems, offering an open, uncolored, and dynamic listening experience that audiophiles crave.
  2. Customization and Versatility: The extensive customization options, facilitated by 16 mini switches, make the S2 Ultra adaptable to a wide range of turntables and cartridges. This versatility ensures that users can easily tailor the device to their preferences, accommodating different systems and cartridge types.
  3. Thoughtful Design and Connectivity: The sleek and robust aluminum housing, user-friendly front panel controls, and a well-designed back panel with input/output sockets exemplify thoughtful design. Including a subsonic filter and an easy-grip ground terminal adds practicality to the overall user experience.
  4. European Craftsmanship: Manufactured in Europe, the S2 Ultra reflects Pro-Ject’s commitment to quality craftsmanship. This distinguishes it from counterparts sourced from Asia and adds to the assurance of a product developed and built with meticulous attention to detail.

Reasons Not to Buy:

  1. Price Point: The S2 Ultra has a higher price tag than other compact phono preamplifiers. If budget constraints are a primary consideration, users might explore alternatives that offer satisfactory performance within a more budget-friendly range.
  2. Complex Customization: While the customization options are extensive, the 16 mini switches might be overwhelming for users who prefer a simpler setup. Those looking for a straightforward plug-and-play experience may find the customization process intricate.
  3. Limited Physical Adjustments: Adjusting settings like gain, capacitance, and resistance requires users to access the back panel with a screwdriver. This manual adjustment process might be less convenient for those who prefer on-the-fly adjustments or easily accessible controls.

In summary, the Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra is a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking uncompromising sonic performance and customization options. However, potential buyers should weigh their priorities, considering factors like budget, preference for simplicity, and the level of manual adjustment they are comfortable with before deciding.

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